Global Competence

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

The COVID-19 crisis is one that has touched almost every part of the globe, exposing issues concerning equity and social justice; education, health, economy and the environment in ways that have forced us to look well beyond the comfort of our own communities and countries and consider the consequences of living in an increasingly globalised environment.

In addition, the political uncertainty in a number of countries leading up to an election has introduced a host of new challenges for social studies and civics teachers, who are already trying to navigate a polarized political climate.

As we wrestle to address both the scope and scale of these problems, it calls into question just how well are our young learners equipped to contribute to collective well-being and a sustainable world?

It is extremely timely then that the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has recently released a further volume of the results of the PISA 2018 survey, titled Are Students Ready to Thrive in an Interconnected World?

The volume explores students’ outcomes on the cognitive test and corresponding questionnaire in addition to their experiences of global and intercultural learning at school and beyond.

The survey questions explored students’ ability to…

  • examine issues of local, global and cultural significance;
  • understand and appreciate the perspectives and world-views of others;
  • engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions across cultures; and
  • take action for collective well-being and sustainable development.

This report comes at an important time as we are revising the curriculum for schools here in New Zealand. For more than a decade we have worked within a competency-based curriculum framework, providing scope and opportunity to address the very capabilities highlighted in the OECD report. This puts us at a significant advantage over many countries where the focus of what is taught in schools remains closely tied to tests for literacy and numeracy and examination of content knowledge recall. Despite this, however, NZ appears to score rather low in many of the areas reported on by the OECD.

This leads me to ponder why? Could it be that, despite the curriculum framework being what it is, the focus of activity on the ground fails to fully address that? Could it be that we haven’t really understood the significance of these competencies for the future lives or our young learners? Or could it be that our approach focuses purely on teaching about global issues and doesn’t extend into exploring the implications for changes in attitude or behaviour as a result? I’m sure we could find evidence of each of these things in various pockets in our current system.

In my view, it’s a matter of belief. If we believe strongly enough (as individual teachers and as a system) that the development of global competence is critical for our learners, then we’d see much more happening in our schools and kura that builds this capability.

In a previous blog I used a quote from the Asia Society that I’ll repeat here because its significance for us as educators – and as parents, and society at large – remains:

A new generation of students requires different skills from the generations that came before. The world is changing fast. Boundaries—literal as well as figurative— are shifting and even disappearing altogether. The culture that once lived halfway around the world now lives just down the block. The ability to thrive in this new and rapidly changing environment is grounded in a globally focused curriculum.

Taken from: Asia Society: Five reasons why global competency matters

The imperative is here now – and we must take the challenge seriously.

In a recent webinar explanation of the PISA report that I participated in, Andraes Schleicher identified the following predictors of performance on the global competencies:

  • Attitudes
  • Awareness of global issues
  • The impact and influence of parents
  • Cognitive adaptability
  • Understanding of the perspectives of others

It seems to me that we’d do well to consider just how we might incorporate an emphasis on these things in our curriculum and learning design. All of these things are already fundamentally a part of the NZ Competency-based curriculum approach!

A few of my notes from what Andreas said may help with addition focus…

  1. Awareness of other cultures and global issues is a start – but in the PISA report many countries showing strong results re cultural awareness ranked low when it came to demonstrating a strong interest in other cultures.
  2. NZers ranked highly in terms of contact with people from other countries at school – and the report demonstrates that contact with other cultures relates positively to interest in these cultures. Specific ways this can be promoted in school includes the celebration of cultural events, student exchanges, learning of other languages – anything that contributes to learners being immersed in and experiencing the culture rather than simply learning about it.
  3. Perspective taking is a variable that determines a lot of what we understand about Global Competence. Creating opportunities for genuine perspective taking, as opposed to the binary choice and position taking that we see in many situations, should be given emphasis in our curriculum approach.
  4. The entry level to developing the capacity to engage in global issues includes advanced literacy skills such as the ability to distinguish between fact and opinion. Key here is to understand that basic literacy and numeracy skills remain important, but with a raised awareness that they are foundational to these higher level capabilities.
  5. Parent and community engagement is critical! The OECD evidence shows a direct correlation between parent interest and student interest in cultural issues.
  6. Engaging with global issues is an intensely local concern – each must be seen as highly relevant to a learner’s own context – “how do I live this in my own context?”

My wish would be for a resurgent interest in the development of these global competencies, not just because they are being promoted by the curriculum or OECD, but because the future of the planet depends on it, and the ability of our young people to thrive in it also. We have to raise this sort of thinking to the fore, to promote critical conversations among our students, parents and community and to seek opportunities that encourage and enable experiences where cultures are brought together and celebrated.

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